When you think of ADHD, most people think of a hyperactive boy whom they also like to call fidgety philippines. This is someone who cannot sit still and who is noticeable again and again in school due to a lack of impulse control. The real tragedy lies not only in the ignorance of the diversity of symptoms, but above all in the fact that this assumption is based on clinical studies that were carried out exclusively with white boys in the 1970s. Based on this research, diagnostic criteria were developed that still apply today. Just a reminder: it's been over forty years now! But surprisingly little has changed, especially in Germany. But I still have ADHD. And I am a woman.
“Sometimes I am asked what ADHD feels like. A bit like writing to-do lists all day until you have a to-do list of to-do lists in the evening that you throw away the next morning. "
Adhs in adult women
In the USA, professional voices have become increasingly loud in recent years, which are focusing on a new aspect of research: ADHD can potentially affect everyone, ADHD knows no gender. The diagnosis rate is currently still 3: 1. When it comes to ADHD, there is one woman for every three men. At least a step forward, because a few years ago a prevalence of 10: 1 was assumed.
However, the timing of diagnosis is particularly different in relation to gender. Women often get misdiagnosed into adulthood or sometimes don't learn what is wrong with them for their entire life. The likelihood of developing low self-esteem and developing depression as a result of the disorder is high. The Suicide rates are accordingly also high. So we urgently need to talk more about women with ADHD.
Men, women and the pillars of ADHD
The experiences girls have with ADHD are fundamentally different from those boys have, whose symptoms are predominantly hyperactivity. Boys show more conspicuous behavior towards the outside, the focus is on problems such as impulse control, aggressiveness or anger.
If one thinks of ADHD as a disorder based on the three pillars of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity, women with ADHD are more likely to develop attentional symptoms. In contrast to boys, because of their gender-specific socialization, girls unconsciously tend to use so-called coping mechanisms, i.e. coping strategies, in order to compensate for deviations from their peers and the non-fulfillment of social expectations. Experts also speak of “masking” the symptoms here.
These coping mechanisms mean that the disorder is usually not recognized in women for a very long time and that there are often only random diagnoses if secondary diseases such as eating disorders, depression or anxiety disorders occur due to unfavorable coping strategies.
Many women with ADHD suffer from a constant feeling of being overwhelmed even in adulthood and are often unable to justify this because they lack the diagnosis and, unfortunately, the opportunity to look into the disease. The causes are internalized because, due to socialization, women tend to take responsibility for their problems first with themselves - and this unfortunately has far-reaching consequences for many of those affected.
Many ADHD people have been told since their youth that they are stupid or exhausting, annoying, chaotic, sick, lazy or abnormal. These things eat their way like acid into a soul that is already completely overwhelmed with itself. What follows is self-hatred and deep insecurity. It is therefore difficult for many sufferers to like themselves.
Many things that are commonplace for non-ADHD patients cannot be automated by affected women and represent an immense burden. Shopping, appointments, phone calls, but also friendships and relationships. They also report that they quickly feel overwhelmed at parties or in company. They suffer from overstimulation or the feeling of being exposed to volume unprotected. You have problems with organizing or with the exact opposite: an obsessive focus on planning, which is to be understood as compensating for your own deficits.
In contrast to boys, whose symptoms tend to decrease in the course of puberty, the symptoms in women increase in this development phase, but are often dismissed as a puberty rebellion out of ignorance - true to the motto "it will grow out again". The injuries that result from this leave deep marks. By contrast, boys at this age externalize the symptoms and react with anger and outward aggression.
When I think back to my childhood, I have to say that I grew up very sheltered. I was a healthy and happy kid who preferred to hang out with older boys in the neighborhood. From the adult point of view, I was able to “order around” the loudest, which from today's perspective was a rather derogatory term for a self-confident girl. I was brave though. But also a daydreamer who could spend hours sorting animal stickers in her room or playing the mini piano. At home I was very impulsive. I cut the clothesline in a frenzy, threw the bike against the wall and sunk a pair of scissors in my brother's head.
After starting school, my strengths of character, which had previously been regularly praised, suddenly turned into alleged character weaknesses. My ideas and my assertiveness became a tangible deficit. My opinion was now considered rebellious. Questioning was inappropriate. The class at the front broke my legs. I was totally under-stimulated. The learning pace was too slow on good days and far too slow on bad days. I can remember weeks when I didn't exchange a single word at school because I was just staring into the void behind the blackboard and dreaming. Furious thoughts, but a drowsy appearance. The frustration grew day by day.
During puberty, the impulsiveness got worse. I will spare my parents the details of having to read everything again at this point. But I smoked pot and I rioted. At school I tried hard to behave inconspicuously, which I couldn't do at home under the constant provocations of my older brother. I found a way to cheat the system in which I kept failing when I was the way I was - and despite my high intelligence just wasn't enough. My solution was not to attract attention! I was a master of disguise. Don't tell anyone anything. Only ever reveal and achieve so much that one just slips through. School. Friendships. Abi. Education. That sounds easy, but it all consumed my strength. I tried to look interested while my mind raced and emotions raged inside me.
Looking back, I know that this self-abandonment happened unconsciously. I became insecure. Blushed quickly. And was in total retreat. My self-doubts grew. Why couldn't I get the simplest things done when I was who I was? However, I acted self-confidently towards my parents. Today it is obvious which coping strategies I used back then and how I simply internalized the self-doubts and made them a lifelong companion.
I wasn't diagnosed until I was in my mid-twenties, rather by chance. Because of depression and because I had developed pronounced social anxiety. I didn't want to surround myself with people because I always had the feeling that I couldn't be myself. Everything would be exposed. Whatever that "all" was. After all these years I didn't know anymore. Today it is clear to me. It was nothing. It was just ADHD in girls.